Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wishes and Care

Yesterday's rather stunning win by former Speaker Gingrich raises two sets of questions.  First, why did he win?   And second, what happens next?

A lot of my friends on the left have been quite smug about the results.   They believe (as the picture from one Facebook post suggests) that Gingrich will be easy to defeat.   As I thought about both the results and the next steps in this race, I believe there is a lot to suggest that the smugness is misplaced.  In politics be careful what you wish for - you may get it.

Why did Gingrich win?  There are two possible explanations on why he won.  The first, which many pundits have advanced, is that the vote was a confirmation that Romney is not acceptable to a large portion of the GOP electorate.   That may well be true. But it may not explain why Gingrich won.  There is a second and much more credible reason that Gingrich won - his response to the first question of the debate on the nineteenth to John King (ABC).   The nation was buzzing about revelations about comments by Gingrich's former wives.  (The kind of smut which many in the media cannot wait to publish, especially about conservatives.)  Instead of cowering, Gingrich took on King (who by the way has served as a useful foil more than once in this season).  The exit polls suggest that the former speaker got a goodly percentage of last minute voters.   His Thursday night performance may have clinched the deal.

The President believes that he will be successful by appealing to "fairness" but his definition of fairness includes significant redistribution - which seems to appeal to only about 40% of the population.  You'll hear an opening salvo in his State of the Union on Tuesday night.  But I think a "Give em hell, Harry redux" campaign might well be a hard sell to the American people.  The President is counting on the low numbers of congress to make his case.  The problem is his numbers are not significantly better. Tracking polls suggest that by an almost 2:1 margin voters disapprove of Obama's job as president.

 The remaining voters find the idea of redistribution, in the way the President would implement it, appalling.     An alternative way to get to the populist base was presented in a speech given by Sarah Palin in Indianola which received precious little coverage.   Palin slammed the "elitists" in the media and the political class.   Gingrich's stunt ignited the same kind of visceral response.   If the GOP candidate can make this election about the role of the elites - the President's assured election will be very much in doubt.    There is a large enough fraction of the electorate that is a) skeptical of his performance and b) distrustful of his definition of "fairness" that could make his tack to the left a colossal mistake.

What happens next?  Predicting the future in this year is especially tough.   But from my perspective there are at least three different scenarios that might happen.   First, Romney might win Florida and this momentary block in his path to the nomination would soon be forgotten.   Were this to happen it is hard to make a case that Romney could motivate the same anti-elite notions that Gingrich seems to have stirred up.   From my view, Obama might well prefer to have Romney because it fits into his campaign story.  At this point, Romney has a pretty significant lead in polling.  But the upset in South Carolina could have changed things.

Second, Florida produces another Gingrich win.   In that case Gingrich has a chance to become the nominee.  Depending on who he chooses for VP, he could have a shot at defeating the President with a populist from the right campaign.  I think that is the least likely scenario.

Third, Florida results are not dispositive.   In that case we could see some new candidates emerging.   Clearly, Gingrich has significant liabilities along with his assets and his seeming sparking of populist notions.  Romney, in many ways like his dad, seems unable to close the deal on his nomination.   At the same time, a lot of GOP leaders are saying privately that Romney may not be as strong a candidate as they would like.

2012 is fundamentally different from 2008.    If it becomes apparent that the President's numbers do not improve, it might well draw in candidates from unexpected places.   It might also lead to a deadlocked convention and a dark horse emerging from the convention.

At this point I do not believe that Gingrich will be the nominee.   But from my perspective the President is a far cry from closing the deal.


Anonymous said...

Despite your well crafted and logical argument, I must beg to disagree with you.

I am not sure that it is politically correct to mention this fact, but the last time, Obama was a black man seeking to become president. If irony had weight of revelation, then Gingrich, starting his campaign afresh in the state that first ceded from the Union and firing on Fort Sumter under the palmetto flag, signals I think the nature of the upcoming fight.

You are right about elites I think, but for the wrong reason. I think that white republicans and probably latinos accept white elites but having a black man flaunting his wealth in happy photos with his kids just galls. Obama, the food stamp president. Clever of Gingrich. Obama should be out there on food stamps not acting all presidential.

I do agree with you on your third point but only if Colin Powell gets drafter and that is not going to happen because last I read, Powell was ill with cancer, i.e. prostate.

As was the case with the civil war, it will be a brutal series of campaigns. The money is in Republican hands, the spirit of revolution is in the hands of the Democrats. After the wilderness however, Obama should emerge-- as most of the world expects.

Dr. Tax in Sacramento said...

I think my point is that Obama is not as popular as the Europeans think he is. While I do not know how the election will turn out I think the President has significant vulnerabilities.

Cliff said...

Jon I find your argument well presented and am in agreement. The media spin seems to be that Gingrich has certain unnamed "liabilities" that will come into focus in the days to come. I am not so sure. We will have to see how the Freddie argument plays out in Florida, but assuming he gets through that state in good shape, I think he will be a formidable candidate in the fall should he be the nominee. I think Romney has had a number of opportunities to "seal the deal," but has failed to do so. At this point I am having a hard time seeing people rally to him if he is the nominee. Frankly, right now I think Gingrich is in a better position to challenge this sitting President. Elections are not about policy, they are about getting people to cast their votes-to saying "yes." For many that is very much a visceral decision. At this point Gingrich is much more visceral as a candidate than either Romney or Obama.